Informal Learning at Work

By: Paul Matthews

Publisher/ Price: Three Faces Publishing / £14.97

ISBN: 978-1-909552-00-5


Given that the way we now work – and learn at work – has changed, and that the only real differences between organisations are in the people who work for them, rather than in the technologies they use, a key way to make organisations more efficient is to make informal learning at work more effective.


Sub-titled ‘how to boost performance in tough times’, this book outlines how to do just that. It espouses the concept of the ‘agile learning organisation’ and, importantly, examines the potential barriers to learning which can derail the most carefully prepared learning strategies. It even tackles the extremely difficult area of evaluating the effectiveness of informal learning.


Early on, Matthews identifies some of the barriers to effective informal learning at work – notably that learning and development (L&D) professionals tend to concentrate so much on delivering (formal) learning that they become out of touch with, and so have no influence over, their organisation’s ‘C’ level executives. Worse still, these executives can lose then confidence in the L&D professionals’ ability to deliver the learning needed to keep the organisation successful.


He explains that, in today’s fast-paced, technology-led world, integration, speed, reach and real-time connectivity needs to be built into the learning environment. He argues that the way organisations think about learning should change. They should encourage a more inclusive, informal, agile approach encompassing such things as performance support, distributed learning, communities of practice and knowledge banks as well as formal learning programmes.


The main goal of an agile learning environment is to enhance on-the-job capability in a way that improves performance and, thus, results. So L&D professionals need to ensure that all learning activities align with the organisation’s business goals. This easier said than done because there will be grey areas concerning some learning which may not be immediately applicable in a work context but could, under certain circumstances in the future, be apposite.


Nonetheless, Matthews ably sets out the valuable principles and precepts of the agile learning organisation before going on to outline some ways to institute and empower informal learning in practice.


The book goes on – aspirationally – to outline a new role for L&D professionals. It also suggests some practical things that these L&D specialists can do to facilitate informal learning in an organisation. There are suggestions, too, for managing informal learning – such as establishing subject matter experts, developing informal coaches and mentors, the use of cross-functional teams and even job sharing initiatives.


Informal learning takes place in organisations – as well as in other places – all the time. The key is to recognise opportunities for it, encourage it and harness it to good effect. In raising awareness of the key issues and suggesting ways of instituting and maintaining effective informal learning in workplaces, this book is a valuable contribution to debate and a practical help for L&D practitioners.


By Bob Little